Published October 23, 2013
By THOMAS P. WEAVER, HORIZON Editor
SMYRNA-Clay County’s football team left Celina last Friday afternoon as a big underdog en route here to face a 5-1 Lancaster Christian Academy (LCA) team, but after turning in a gritty performance against the highly touted non-TSSAA school, the Dawgs have gained some respect and head coach Chad Barger hopes they’ve also gained some momentum.
“I look at it a little like what UT has done the past two weeks,” Barger said. “They gave Georgia all they wanted the week before and then they went out and knocked off South Carolina.
“These guys gave (LCA) all they wanted and figured out what they are capable of… now it’s time to go out and take care of business this week and next to give us a shot at the postseason.”
Though in the end they were outlasted 34-29 by the Knights, sometimes how a team played the game can be more important than a win.
“We outplayed them and the stats prove it,” Barger said. “Again, we shot ourselves in the foot and self-inflicted mental mistakes did us in.
“We’ve got to learn from this, build on how we’ve played, and take the next step by winning these next two games here at home.”
After giving a “more agressive” effort, the first-year Bulldog coach said he was expecting big things out of his players to close out the season.
“These guys have an opportunity to close it out with a pair of wins here in front of their home crowd and give us a shot at the playoffs,” he said. “Right now, we are the second team out according to the TSSAA.
“All we can control is what we do… If we win, and maybe get a little help, we’ve got a shot.”
Five turnovers kept Clay County from pulling off the win here last Friday night and Barger said that was the difference in the game.
“We out gained them and left at least 21 points on the field thanks to turnovers and penalties,” he explained. “We’ve got to fix that in practice this week, because if we execute, play like we did against (LCA), and eliminate the turnovers, we can play with anybody.
“These guys showed that Friday night.”
Clay County will end the regular season with a two-game home-stand. This week they will host Clinton County, KY and will then close out their schedule with Macon County the following Friday night.
Wins over both the Bulldogs from Ablany, KY and the Tigers would improve the Dawgs’ record to 4-6 and hopefully secure a wildcard post-season berth for the team–a feat Clay County has only accomplished one time in the last 10 years.
Game time with Clinton County here at coach John Teeples Field is 7 p.m. Friday night.
The Bulldogs weren’t intimidated by the explosive LCA team–who had added players from the likes of Blackman, Pearl-Cohn, and Oakland, and they showed it as they scored the first 14 points of the game.
“We knew we could score some points on them, but honestly I was shocked at how fast we took it down the field on them early,” Barger said. “Our guys came ready to play.”
Jayar Fraga, who pushed the 150-yard rushing-mark by night’s end, set the tempo as he broke loose for 27 yards on the second play of the game. Then junior quarterback Brandon Stewart, who had another big night through the air breaking the 150-yard mark and going over 1,000 for the year, found junior Matt Fraga from 16 yards out to make it 6-0 (kick failed) after four snaps.
Clay County stuffed the Knights on their first drive as Jayar Fraga jarred the ball loose from an LCA player’s grasp and sophomore Clay Copass fell on it just across mid-field, but the Bulldogs couldn’t take advantage and were forced to punt.
They returned the favor to the Knights on their ensuing possession and then went to work again.
Stewart hooked up with Jayar Fraga on a bubble screen and the shifty senior back turned it into a 27-yard gain down to the LCA three-yard-line. Junior fullback Latrone Bowman did the rest as he crossed the stripe for his first touchdown of the year. Fraga ran the conversion in and Clay County led 14-0.
The Bulldogs then again turned the Knights away, but fumbled the ball back to them after advancing well into the redzone with a three-score margin just out of reach.
“We had the fast start, but that would’ve put (LCA) on the run to go up three scores,” Barger said. “That was a killer.”
On the first play of the second quarter the Knights showed their big-play ability with an 85-yard bomb. The conversion failed and the score sat at 14-6.
The next Bulldog drive resulted in a punt and four plays later LCA closed the gap to 14-12 after another failed conversion, but the Knights weren’t done.
They turned a Stewart pass into paydirt (conversion failed) and the scoreboard turned to 18-14 in LCA favor, but the Dawgs weren’t detered.
Jayar Fraga ran five times for 57 yards setting his team up inside the 10-yard-line, but a fumble going in ended the threat on the LCA one-yard-line as the first half came to an end.
“I told them at the half we were the reason we were down,” Barger said, “Without the turnovers, we would’ve been up on them.”
Clay County scored on their first drive of the third quarter after Jayar Fraga ran for seven yards, Stewart found sophomore Wyatt Mabry for 16, and Matt Fraga took a hand-off from his brother 28 yards. Bowman stuck it in the endzone for the second time on the night from two yards out and freshman kicker Baltazar Sebastian made the PAT.
The Bulldogs had retaken the lead 21-18, but they didn’t have it long.
The Knights immediately answered the score with one of their own and converted the two-point pass to go up 26-21.
Both teams came up empty on their ensuing drives and Clay County again squandered a prime opportunity.
After getting inside the redzone again behind a mix of Bowman, Stewart, and the Fragas, the Bulldogs came up inches short on a fourth-down run at the Knights’ 13-yard-line.
LCA made the Dawgs pay as they took a two-touchdown lead seven plays later and converted another two-point play changing the score to 34-21.
Clay County fumbled again on their next advance, but got the ball back the next play as sophomore Dalton Smith forced and senior Carl Ledbetter recovered a Knight fumble on the LCA 37-yard-line.
Stewart again swung it out to Jayar Fraga on a bubble screen and he did the rest.
“It was one of those that belongs on a highlight film,” Barger said. “What a run.”
Fraga broke tackles and evaded defenders on his way to the endzone and Stewart then found Mabry for the two-point conversion and the Bulldogs were back in striking distance with just under four minutes to play.
With the score at 34-29, Clay County recovered an onside kick attempt and were in business, but LCA bowed up and forced a four-and-out dashing Bulldog hopes in the process.
A bad snap almost provided some last minute excitement, but the Knights recovered it before Clay County could scoop it up and the final score remained.
“We were emotionally into that game,” Barger said when questioned about the difference between last Friday night and the disappointing loss the previous week to Whitwell. “That was the most physical we’ve played all year–which is pleasing to a coach, we need that cut-throat mentality all the time.
“If we can keep that going the rest of the year and eliminate the mental mistakes that have plagued us, we’ll be alright.”
Clay County out gained LCA with 416 total yards on 76 plays in the game. A dozen completions accounted for 165 yards through the air and a whopping 251 yards on the ground made up the total. CCHS also picked up 20 first downs in the contest.
LCA mustered 369 yards of total offense and nine first downs, 362 of which came from their passing attack. Five penalties cost the Bulldogs 35 yards and five turnovers (3 fumbles, 2 INTs) didn’t help their cause either. Their opponent had four for 40 yards and turned the ball over twice.
Stewart completed 12 of 24 attempts for 165 yards, two TDs, and two interceptions, while Jayar Fraga threw two passes that fell incomplete.
Fraga was the leading receiver with four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, while his brother Matt caught five for 45 yards and a touchdown. Mabry also had three catches covering 28 yards and a two-point conversion.
Jayar Fraga was also the team’s leading rusher with 141 yards on 27 carries and a two-point run. Matt Fraga ran for 71 yards on nine carries, Bowman rushed seven times for 43 yards and two TDs, Stewart carried five times for 13 yards, and Harley Smith gained a yard on one run.
Chris Nagy (fumble recovery) and Jayar Fraga (forced fumble) led the team on defense with 4.5 tackles each, while Matt Fraga (sack, forced fumble) and Harley Smith had four stops each. Dalton Smith (forced fumble) had three tackles, Mitchell Short and Stewart both made 2.5, and Ledbetter had 1.5 and recovered a fumble.
Bowman (1), Copass (1, fumble recovery), and Matt Maxfield (.5) also got on the board.
On special teams, Ledbetter punted twice for 45 yards, while Sebastian made one of two point-after attempts.
Historical numbers compiled by coach Daniel Strong from newspaper archives* show this will be the first meeting in history between Clay County and Clinton County, KY.
Due to that fact the HORIZON will take a look back at the 62-game series between the former Celina High School or Clay County High School and Gordonsville.
The series mark between the two teams sits at 36-25-1 in Tiger favor. The first meeting between the two rivals ended in a tie in 1951 before the Bulldogs dominated Gordonsville through 1970 going 15-3 over that stretch.
The Tigers won the next matchup and ripped off 10 straight victories twice (1973-1983, 1997-2007) to finish the series with a 33-10 mark through last year.
The Bulldogs did make things interesting with the team in the mid-80s and early-90s, notching wins in 1983, 1985, and three straight times beginning in 1989, but CHS/CCHS would only beat Gordonsville three more times in history (1996, 2003, 2008) as the series came to an end this season.
Single-game statistical leaders on the offensive side of the ball against Gordonsville over the years again include both premier Bulldog rushers.
Jimmy “Crank” Hull set the yardage-mark at 189 yards in 1985 and Gary Davis ran a close second in 1993 galloping for 172 yards. Brian Burchett also crossed the goal line three times in 1989 to claim the rushing-touchdown record against the team.
Daniel Strong surpassed passing legend Steven Arms (202 yds. in 1988) for the yardage record through the air against Gordonsville with his 229-yard performance in 1999 and Mike Adams rounded out the list with 163 yards in 1991. Jon Weaver threw the most touchdowns (3) in a win over the Tigers in 1996.
Burchett also holds the mark as the top receiver against Gordonsville with 101 yards and two touchdowns in 1989 and he also hauled in another pair of scores in 1988. Jon Roberts caught two of Weaver’s trio in 1996 and Jerry Strong also had two receiving touchdowns in 1969.
One of Strong’s in 1969 tied for the longest ever. He caught a 70-yarder from Larry Austin that year and Brian Halsell did the same off the arm of Kevin Watson in 1985.
Jason Atchley had the best defensive performance ever against Gordonsville in 1998 when he tallied 22 tackles in a single game, while Ray Likens made 20 stops in 1980 and Timmy Page had 18 in 1992. Kenny Garrett (1988) and Brandon Gore (1998) also had 13 tackles each against the Tigers.
The sack-mark shows a three-way tie at the top as Johnny Rich (1985), Jimmy McBride (1978), and Matthew Boone (1991) each threw Gordonsville quarterbacks for a loss three times.
Mike Barlow claimed the longest interception returned for a touchdown against the Tigers when he completed a 90-yard “pick-six” back in 1970, while Darryl Reecer sits atop the special teams list with an 80-yard kickoff return in 1983.
*(most pre-1976 and 1996-2009 stats not yet available)
How they fared
Only four of Clay County’s other 2013 opponents saw action last week and the group finished the weekend with an even 2-2 record.
Upperman (8-0), and Whitwell (4-5) joined Lancaster Christian (6-1) on the winners list. The top-five ranked Bee team outlasted Livingston Academy (2-6) 41-34, while the Tigers blasted Sale Creek (0-8) 53-8.
East Robertson (3-5) and Macon County (2-6) both fell in defeat as the Indians lost to Jo Byrns (5-3) 41-21 and the Tigers were beaten by Dekalb County (6-2) 35-16.
Monterey (4-4), Jackson County (4-4), Red Boiling Springs (1-7), Pickett County (1-7), and Clinton County, KY (4-4) had open dates last week.
Clay County’s 10 opponents now sport an overall combined losing record of 37-43.